January 18 , 2008
ACLU Online update - national news
FISA Debate Comes Down to Reid and the Constitution
More than two years ago, the nation learned that the National Security Agency was spying on Americans without warrants or a court order. And since that time, we’ve been waiting for Congress to stand up to the Bush administration abuses and bring NSA spying in line with the Constitution.
The Senate returns next week and the temporary fix to the NSA problem expires soon. Now, Senator Reid has a choice to make. He can finally bring to the floor of the Senate FISA legislation that protects our right to privacy and due process. Or, he can once again fail to stand up to the Bush administration’s demands for unnecessary and dangerous broad powers and bring up for a vote a shameful, unconstitutional bill.
The ACLU is engaging thousands of its members and asking them to call their senators. We’re running radio ads targeting key senators around the country. We’re holding dozens of meetings with senators and their staff in their home-state offices. And, we’re working with a broad coalition of organizations to make sure any spying legislation Congress passes protects our privacy and the rule of law.
>> Make the voice of freedom heard: Sign the ACLU petition to Senator Reid now.
ACLU Calls for Independence in Investigation of Destroyed Interrogation Tapes
Two weeks ago, Attorney General Michael Mukasey opened a narrow investigation into the CIA's destruction of videotapes depicting the "harsh" interrogation of detainees in its custody. Like most Bush administration actions, this limited investigation will only prevent vital questions from being asked -- it will not get key answers that America needs.
Mukasey appointed Deputy U.S. Attorney John Durham to examine only the issue of the destruction of evidence, not the illegal activities by our government that reportedly were filmed on the CIA’s torture tapes in the first place. Because the Attorney General won't investigate the shameful conduct that is at the heart of the matter on his own, the ACLU and its members have been turning up the heat and sending letters to Congress. This week, the House Judiciary Committee also sent a letter to the attorney general requesting a special counsel investigation.
The ACLU has also been in federal court asking a judge to hold the CIA in contempt of court for destroying the interrogation tapes. In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the ACLU and other organizations in October 2003 and May 2004, a judge ordered the government to produce or identify all records pertaining to the treatment of detainees in its custody overseas. The CIA defied the court order when it neglected to identify the tapes and ultimately destroyed them in 2005.
The ACLU filed a motion this week asking a federal judge to hold the CIA in contempt, charging that the agency flouted a court order when it destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the harsh interrogation of prisoners in its custody. In October 2003 and May 2004 in response to FOIA requests filed by the ACLU, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the CIA to produce or identify all records pertaining to the treatment of detainees in its custody. Despite the court’s ruling, the CIA never produced the tapes or even acknowledged their existence until last month.
With our nation’s reputation and the rule of law at stake, we need a complete and independent investigation not only of who destroyed CIA tapes of interrogations, but also of who authorized, ordered and carried out any criminal acts of torture and abuse.
>> Read more about the ACLU’s response to the CIA’s destruction of interrogation tapes.
Events across the Country Mark Six Year Anniversary of Guantánamo
ACLU activists rallied in NYC to show support for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo. See more photos of events around the country here.
Last Friday marked the sixth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and activists around the world joined in protest of the U.S. government's refusal to shut it down. The ACLU, working with our national network of affiliates, hosted tons of events--from readings to protests to vigils.
A few days after our Close Guantánamo Day of Action, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, announced that he too would like to see Guantánamo close. "I'd like to see it shut down," Mullen told Reuters. "I believe that from the standpoint of how it reflects on us that it's been pretty damaging."
While the world protested last Friday, an appeals court threw out a lawsuit brought by four former Guantánamo detainees against then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. According to The Washington Post, the court found the detainees "have no right to sue top Pentagon officials and military officers for torture, abuse and violations of their religious rights." The decision shows just how much more work remains to be done.
Check out accounts of the Day of Action:
>> Pictures from ACLU events across the country
>> Read ACLU national staffers Jenny Egan and Reid Rowe's accounts of taking the Close Guantánamo message to the national morning TV shows in New York.
>> Read posts from bloggers who campaigned on their blogs.
Update from the Supreme Court
Last week the ACLU argued two landmark cases before the Supreme Court. One will have major implications for the 2008 elections. The other could impact the practice of capitol punishment in America.
Crawford v. Marion County Election Board
In the most important voting rights case since Bush v. Gore settled the 2000 presidential election, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to Indiana's most-restrictive-in-the-nation voter identification law.
"There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote," said Ken Falk, Legal Director of the ACLU of Indiana and lead counsel on the case. "Onerous voter ID laws like Indiana's do not prevent fraud — they create excessive burdens on voting rights without any justification whatsoever. It is our hope that the Supreme Court will reject the deceptive voter fraud myth by strongly reaffirming the right to vote in this country."
>> Read more about this case.
Baze v. Rees
The ACLU charged that the lethal injection procedures as practiced in Kentucky amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and asked the Supreme Court to halt its use.
“However one feels about the death penalty, it is unconscionable that states insist on executing people with a drug formula veterinarians won’t even use to put cats and dogs to sleep because of the risk of inflicting excruciating pain,” said ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro. “The Supreme Court ought to reject a lethal injection protocol that is completely at odds with civilized standards of decency and American values."
>> Read more about this case.
Roe v. Wade: A Core Civil Liberty Turns 35
By Louise Melling, Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Roe v. Wade turns 35 this month. With this anniversary, the ACLU marks not only 35 years of reproductive freedom, but 35 years of impressive gains in the fight for women’s equality. The timing is not serendipitous. At the core of women’s equality is the ability to control whether and when we have children. The legalization of contraception in the 1960s and abortion in the 1970s fostered women’s ability to make important life decisions about themselves and their families.
However, the fight to protect Roe extends well beyond issues of reproductive freedom and women’s equality. It is a fight to get the government out of the business of deciding how we form families and with whom we can have intimate relationships. It is a fight to ensure that all people are treated fairly, and that everyone has the opportunity to make fundamental decisions about the direction of their lives regardless of the color of one’s skin, immigration status, gender or sexuality. At the very core of Roe is every American’s right to privacy, equality, and fairness.
Yet, recent Supreme Court decisions have further restricted access to abortion and have invited politicians across the country to pass new and far-reaching restrictions on abortion and other reproductive health services regardless of their impact on women’s health. These restrictions come after decades of chipping away at the protections enshrined in Roe.
On the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the connection between reproductive rights and broader civil liberties has been lost in the political wrangling over abortion. We must step back and reexamine the role access to birth control and abortion plays in opening up classrooms, boardrooms, and legislatures for women. We must refocus the conversation on fairness and opportunity so that everyone has the ability to make meaningful decisions about whether and when to bear children.
>> Learn more about what is at stake.
>> Make your voice heard.
>> Watch the Roe v. Wade 35th Anniversary Video on YouTube.
New Film Examines Death of Innocent Taxi Driver at US Air Force Base
What happens when a few people expand the wartime powers of the executive office to undermine the very principles on which the United States was founded?
Taxi to the Dark Side examines this question through an investigation into the homicide of an innocent taxi driver at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, as well as the Bush administration's policies condoning indefinite detention, torture and abuse.
Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project and co-author of "Administration of Torture" talks with filmmaker Alex Gibney, about his new documentary Taxi to the Dark Side.
Taxi to the Dark Side opens in NY and LA on January 18and February 8 in other cities
>> Listen to the ACLU's to the interview (MP3 download).
>> For more information on the film, visit: http://www.aclu.org/taxitothedarkside.
ACLU Sues Law Enforcement for Shielding President Bush from Protestors
The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court this week on behalf of several Bush protesters who were made to stand more than 150 yards away from the site of a fundraiser being attended by the president, while a group of people expressing support for President Bush were allowed to stand only a few feet from the fundraiser site.
On August 27, 2007, President Bush was in New Mexico to attend a fundraiser for Senator Pete Domenici at the home of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque's mayor. In anticipation of the presidential motorcade, several individuals, including the ACLU’s clients, gathered along the street leading to the mayor’s house holding signs expressing their disapproval of the Iraq War.
Protestors critical of the president were forced to stand 150 yards away from the end of the mayor’s driveway, where they were blocked from the president’s view by a wall of parked police cars and officers on horseback, while a group of people holding a banner reading “God Bless George Bush! We Pray for You!” were allowed to stand only a few feet from the fundraiser site, in plain view of the motorcade.
The New Mexico complaint comes in the midst of an ongoing challenge by the ACLU to a White House policy that unlawfully excludes individuals perceived to be critical of the administration from public events where President Bush is present.
>> Read a copy of the ACLU’s complaint.
>> Learn more about the ACLU’s work to protect free speech at presidential events.
Fleeting Expletives Bill is Unwise, Unnecessary, and Unconstitutional
For nearly thirty years, the FCC appropriately found that the broadcast of a fleeting expletive did not implicate the indecency rules. Then, in 2003, in Fox Television Stations v. FCC, the FCC abruptly changed that policy, finding that any use of certain words presumptively constituted indecency. The FCC has emphasized, however that “such words may not be profane in specified contexts.” Thus, broadcasters are left with little guidance as to what particular contexts make certain expletives “profane” or “indecent.”
Members of the Senate are still trying to censor broadcast television with a bill that could be voted on at any time. Senator Rockefeller’s bill, S. 1780, would keep “profanity” off broadcast television, censoring even unintentional “fleeting expletives.” Even harmless mistakes could cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
If this bill passes, broadcasters will continue to censor programs to avoid massive FCC fines up to $375,000 per violation and worse, they’ll be fined for accidental slip-ups.
The American people need their rights protected. Even critically acclaimed movies, including Saving Private Ryan and Ken Burns’ The War, have been censored because the film makers used unsavory language to describe experiences they’ve compared to hell on earth.
>> Take action: Tell your members of Congress that the Rockefeller bill is out of line with the Constitution.